Kanthapura

by

Raja Rao

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Kanthapura: Section 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After three days spent repairing and cleaning the village, as the men begin to return home, the villagers see cars heading up the Bebbur Mound “like a marriage procession.” They see Europeans marching “pariah-looking people” out, but something seems wrong, and Rachi brings the other women to Ratna, “for she is our chief now.”
Ratna officially becomes the leader of the Gandhian movement, which has shifted from following a brahmin man to a pariah woman. But caste still exists elsewhere under colonialism, as evidenced by the villagers’ immediate sense that Europeans are marching “pariah-looking people” into town.
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Labor, Exploitation, and Economic Independence Theme Icon
A drummer beats in the Temple Square, declaring “something about the supreme Government and the no-taxer and the rebels” before naming various fields around the village, even Rangè Gowda’s big field. Suddenly, the villagers realize what is happening and begin to weep. Achakka and the women meet Satamma, who blames Moorthy for “all this misery” and at first refuses to follow them to Ratna, but eventually gives in and joins.
Since the villagers have rejected the legitimacy of the British government, that government has decided to confiscate their lands and sell them to the highest bidder. At the hands of the government, Kanthapura transforms from a village saturated with personal and religious significance for its inhabitants into a massive property to be sold for profit.
Themes
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Land, Geography, and Belonging Theme Icon
Labor, Exploitation, and Economic Independence Theme Icon
They go to Sami’s house, where Ratna is staying, and find about a dozen other villagers looking at a door behind which “the Mahatma’s boys” are speaking. The women feel relieved, since Moorthy promised that “city people” would come help them, and more people come to join them at Sami’s house.
Fortunately, Gandhians from the city have come to stop the colonial government. The villagers’ power lies in their newfound network of relations with independence fighters throughout the subcontinent.
Themes
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The door opens, and Ratna is behind it along with many of the men who had been arrested and a number of city boys, one of whom addresses the audience and explains that hundreds of Volunteers will come from the city to save the village’s lands, “for the Government is afraid of us.” In Karwar, he explains, all public services have stopped and “every white man” has a policeman for personal protection as Gandhians have taken over and refuse to stop even when millions are beaten and thrown in jail. They only buy khadi cloth and the money in circulation ends up with the Congress, not the government. Gandhians conquered the northern city of Peshawar, he continues, even though hundreds were shot, and eventually the soldiers stopped shooting them altogether because they came to understand their purpose. He believes that Gandhians’ love will even convert these soldiers, and the whole group takes a moment for silent prayer.
Elsewhere, the city men promise, the independence movement has succeeded in blocking the colonial government by withdrawing Indians’ participation in it. The Gandhian movement seems to be succeeding on a national scale, as police violence, murders, and the threat of arrest do little to deter Indians who have found freedom in their shared commitment to independence. But the Congress still collects taxes and issues national policies, like the colonial government, which suggests that it is impossible to truly devolve such power once it has been centralized.
Themes
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During the prayers, the women see more and more cars drive through town and suddenly they blurt out, “no, no—this will not do, this will not do.” Ratna assures them that the Congress will take care of them, but the women cannot bring themselves to abandon their lands and homes “and the sacred banks of the Himavathy.”
The women suddenly lose trust in the national Gandhian movement, which (exactly like the colonial government) seems to void their land of the particular meaning it holds for its particular people.
Themes
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Land, Geography, and Belonging Theme Icon
Ratna had already left, and everyone returns home in frustration as Achakka wonders whether Gandhism has helped them at all. She declares that they were “mad to follow Moorthy.” The goddess Kenchamma and river Himavathy never refused their prayers, she laments. But suddenly she feels “some strange fever” inside her and has a change of heart. Achakka begs forgiveness from Moorthy, Gandhi, and Kenchamma, and declares that the women will do their pilgrimage “to the end.”
Achakka suddenly experiences a conflict between the traditional and Gandhian sides of herself. After she spends months fighting Gandhi’s battles, Achakka suddenly wishes she had rejected the Mahatma’s nationalistic ideology and sustained the local religion that bestowed her with her particular identity, even if the colonial government strategically exploited that identity in order to keep Indians economically oppressed. But then she reverts because of a feeling that she cannot shake (like the feelings that moved Moorthy follow to Gandhi throughout the book).
Themes
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Nationalism and Colonialism Theme Icon
Land, Geography, and Belonging Theme Icon
The Gandhians block the police’s view of the courtyard with two carts and plan their Satyagraha march. Someone runs into the courtyard and says that women  have arrived for the land auction, and Timmamma sees that they are women from their own village, including Kamalamma and Venkatalakshamma and Lakshamma. Ratna hopes that they want to buy out Bhatta’s lands. They have trouble discerning who is coming and return to their preparations as pariah women shriek and shriek around the valley.
The Gandhians discover that even former residents of the village have decided to participate in the auction, likely paying the colonial government for what used to be their own lands. Ironically, the brahmins who rejected Gandhi in favor of the caste system have now abandoned their traditional position as religious leaders in order to rule Kanthapura through their wealth.
Themes
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Land, Geography, and Belonging Theme Icon
Labor, Exploitation, and Economic Independence Theme Icon
The police and protestors continue to clash in town, and the Gandhians see Sankar come to the door with a number of city boys in tow. He asks if everything is ready but reveals neither his motives nor who will blow the conch to start their protest. That evening, they hear more commotion in the town and look out to see “pariah-looking men” spread to all the village’s fields and the Europeans’ cars drive off. They bring out “big, strong gas-lights of the city” and illuminate the fields around the village; when he sees them, Sankar shouts at Ratna to blow the conch.
Although Sankar professes his support for the villagers, Achakka feels as though he is hiding information from them, coopting their struggle to save their own lands for his broader cause. To the villagers’ horror, their lands have been turned into a plantation like the Skeffington Estate, and the gas lights show that city technology has come to transform the village’s landscape.
Themes
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The Gandhians immediately begin to march, chanting and singing as the policemen file into town with their lathis raised. But they are singing a religious song and chanting “Satyanarayan Maharaj ki jai!” They tell the police officers they do not know where they are going, but soon the villagers’ cries turn back to “Vandè Mataram!” and “Mahatma Gandhi ki jai!” as the city boys come out to join them in the streets and march with them in the direction of the barricades outside the Skeffington Estate.
The Gandhians’ religious chant gives them plausible deniability, since the colonial government views politics and religion as separate spheres (whereas they are intimately intertwined in Kanthapura). Crucially, they praise Satyanarayan, or “truth as the highest being,” which suggests that they have recommitted to Gandhi’s cause and emphasis on Truth.
Themes
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Related Quotes
The police beat the marchers once again with their lathis, but at the village gate one Gandhian raises “the flag of the Revolution,” singing it and passing it around the protestors as the police try to seize it. The police begin throwing stones at the crowd but are outnumbered by protestors.
By raising the flag, the villagers claim Kanthapura for the Congress of All India’s parallel government, and the previous chapter’s image of children throwing rocks at the police is inverted as the police throw rocks at the mass of protestors.
Themes
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The protestors approach the Skeffington Estate’s guarded barricades and see the city coolies continue their labor. The police throw one woman on a cactus and run the others down to the canal and then into its waters. From afar, the village women see dozens of new soldiers approaching with rifles and bayonets. They hide amidst the season’s harvests as one soldier fires a warning shot and then a deafening silence falls.
The villagers see distinct signs that this confrontation will be still more violent than the last. While the city Gandhians initially helped the villagers outnumber the police, the government quickly calls in reinforcements and signals its willingness to shoot protestors.
Themes
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From their vantage point above the village, the women see the soldiers surround the city boys and demand that they must lower the flag or else will be shot. When the boys insist that their protest is nonviolent, the police say that this does not allow them to march into the fields. Those are their fields, protest the villagers, for “it’s we who have put the plough to the earth and fed her with water,” but the soldiers shoo them off and threaten again to shoot.
The women now view Kanthapura from above, a perspective Achakka has never before adopted in relation to her village. This suggests that her relationship to it is changing. Indeed, the villagers and soldiers clash over ideologies of the land: Kanthapura’s people claim that their ties to the land through history, religion, and labor supersede the formal property rights through which the colonial government claims it can sell their village.
Themes
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Ratna drives the protestors forward and they all hear a volley of shots and close their eyes, only to quickly realize that these were more warning shots. Afraid, the villagers hide in Bhatta’s sugarcane fields. They see the city coolies begin to cut their harvest as the crowd approaches them, chanting. They see the Skeffington coolies marching a flag down from the Estate to the barricades.
Bhatta used to oppress the villagers with his predatory moneylending, amassing land at their expense; now, the people of Kanthapura have occupied his fields. Similarly, the Skeffington coolies have raised the national flag over the estate where they are indentured, seemingly claiming the land for themselves.
Themes
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Suddenly, the city coolies in Kanthapura shut off all the lights. The villagers see the police start to beat the Skeffington coolies at the barricade, then fire warning shots and finally shoot one of the coolies. Astonished, the other three thousand coolies leap over the barricades and rush towards the top of the hill where the police stand and begin to open fire.
Just as the Kartik lights go out before the police arrest Rachanna in section 10 of the book, the gas lights go out here just before the police kill the first protestor. But, as in all the book’s protests, physical violence initially motivates the Gandhians to fight harder rather than scaring them away.
Themes
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After “a long tilting silence,” the women decide to join the coolies, and Nanjamma stays to watch the children. Achakka goes and sees bullets flying every which way, until one strikes one of the Volunteers with her. A protestor from the city bandages the injured woman and carries her to the Congress ambulance. The others hear the yells of the wounded and, from the front of the march, a song—“O, lift the flag high, / Lift the flag high, / This is the flag of the Revolution.”
The police have no qualms about massacring nonviolent, unarmed protestors who have already rejected their government’s legitimacy. As she frequently does throughout the book, Achakka narrates this chaotic conflict between the police and Gandhians through the competing sounds she hears: the noise of gunshots and the song of the Revolution.
Themes
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The city coolies give up the harvest and join in the protests, telling the women “Gandhi Mahatma ki jai!” even though they otherwise do not understand one another. They look for the Skeffington coolies but do not see them, although an enormous crowd of coolies and women comes from the river bend. The soldiers fire and charge at the protestors, trampling them, waving around their bayonets, and hitting them with their rifle butts.
Like the Skeffington Coolies and villagers throughout the Western Ghats in previous protests, the city coolies who have been brought to work the newly bought-out fields join the Gandhians who share their political interest in ending colonial rule. The soldiers’ gruesome violence continues to escalate.
Themes
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Sometime later, the women wake, and a Gandhian immediately gets shot near them and falls over them, dead. In the big field, Achakka wonders where all her fellow Volunteers have gone. She looks up over the fields and sees her village, completely empty: “there seems to be not a beating pulse in all Kanthapura.” She hears the British soldiers plan their next attack.
When they wake up, the women immediately confront the aftermath of the massacre. Achakka again takes in all of Kanthapura at once, seeing it completely evacuated from this new perspective. But, even though the village is empty and there appears to be nothing left to destroy, the British are still planning another attack. Their cruelty extends beyond their particular mission of putting down Kanthapura’s protestors.
Themes
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The attack starts “not from their side but ours,” since one of the Gandhians broke open one of the city lights and it made a noise so loud that the soldiers mistook it for a gunshot. The soldiers charge at the protestors, shooting and thrusting their bayonets, and the Gandhians flee with the coolies as someone hoists the flag of India. The soldiers begin massacring the protestors.
The protestor’s attack on the city technology of the gas light is interpreted by the soldiers as a violent physical attack, even though they know the Gandhians are unarmed. Attacking colonial objects, like invading colonial property, amounts to an attack on colonialism itself and leads the soldiers to feel that further violence is justified.
Themes
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One of the protestors tells a soldier “do not fire on innocent men.” The soldiers laugh and ask if the Gandhians are loyal to the British Government, but they say they “know only one Government and that is the Government of the Mahatma.” The soldiers plant a Government flag and demand that the protestors march by it, but again the Gandhians start singing about “the flag of the Revolution.”
The soldiers define disloyalty to the British Empire as a form of criminal guilt, promising safety in exchange for allegiance to the symbol of colonial rule. Again, the Gandhians’ principled rejection of the British government supersedes their concern for their physical safety, even though they appear to be leading themselves into a massacre.
Themes
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Boys rush at the flag and the soldiers stab them with bayonets, starting another chaotic massacre. Someone strikes one of the officers and Achakka hears Ratna’s voice saying, “no violence, in the name of the Mahatma” but cannot find her anywhere. “Men grip men and men crush men and men bite men and men tear men” in the confusion. Protestor after protestor falls dead, and the villagers cry out for them.
Like Moorthy’s refusal to accept legal help or Sankar’s insistence on speaking Hindi, the protestors’ suicidal proclamation of loyalty to Gandhi seems to cross the line of principled resistance and look like an absurd, blind adherence to the party line in a context that does not justify it.
Themes
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Achakka and the women “creep back through the village lane,” watching the police slaughter countless men beneath the Gandhian flag. To their relief, many of the villagers are standing at the town gate, but they wonder “who will ever set foot again in this village?” More wounded men return from the hill, bleeding and wailing.
Kanthapura’s sanctity for its inhabitants seems to be violated. As Gandhians are massacred on the Kenchamma Hill, Achakka implies, she begins to lose her deep affinity for the land and her faith in its goddess. Similarly, as the national flag flies over a massacre of Gandhians, Rao seems to imply that their faith in the Mahatma goes too far and undermines the purity of Gandhi’s message.
Themes
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Rachi declares that “in the name of the goddess, I’ll burn this village.” Against the others’ protests, she spits thrice toward the Bebbur Mound and the village gate before leading four others to make a bonfire of their clothing and spread the flames throughout their village. They hear gunshots and shrieking animals, and they run out of the village and through the Himavathy river as more and more of the protestors join them, heading toward Maddur.
When Rachi burns the village in Kenchamma’s name, she is both destroying the site of the massacre that has devastated Kenchamma’s people and leading those people to abandon their goddess and move elsewhere. The clothes she burns are likely domestic khadi-cloth, which suggests that she may be rejecting the Gandhism that led to Kanthapura’s destruction and gave the villagers little in return. On their way out of town, the Gandhians cleanse themselves in the holy Himavathy river, which guides them away from Kanthapura toward safety.
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In Maddur, more policemen immediately attack the Gandhians, but locals quickly rush to their rescue and tend to their wounded. The able-bodied continue over the Ghats and into the jungle, across into Mysore state, where people come and “hung garlands on our necks and called us the pilgrims of the Mahatma.” The people of this town, Kashipura, invite the Gandhians to stay, and they move there permanently.
The further the villagers go from Kanthapura, the more locals around the Ghats support their cause; in abandoning their village, the Gandhians unite with others under the banner of the nation for which they have fought.
Themes
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